Skill development run amok

My neighbour came by yesterday to check on our ‘studio’ progress.  Finally, we have the foundation completed and are just awaiting the energy to go get 30 sheets of plywood.  It is not a chore I am looking forward to.

He just stared at the joists and the posts and the squareness and level of it all. After a long and appreciative pause, he said, “Geez, Dave, you are starting to do work like Roger!”

It was a compliment.

Roger is a mutual friend who does everything perfectly and then does it again with reinforcement so it is done even more perfectly – just to make sure.  Roger is a perfectionist.  If 1/4 inch steel and one bolt is enough, Roger employs 1/2 inch steel and four bolts.  And then he worries that it will be strong enough.  He built his dock so strongly, I was compelled to say, “Geez, Roger, The Spanish Armada wasn’t built that strong.  Only an American Aircraft carrier is built stronger.  Sheesh!”

I immediately regretted my statement.  Roger started to worry about an aircraft carrier tying up to his dock.  It might not be strong enough.

To have my work compared to Roger’s is both a tribute and a worry.  Am I getting obsessive?  Was that extra bolt and steel plate overkill? 

And therein lies the problem with getting better at building…………..when in doubt about something we say, “Hmmmm…….what would Roger do?”

Some people say, “What would Jesus do?”  Not us.  (Jesus would hire a contractor.)  We ask what would Roger do if the matter had anything to do with strength and durability.  If it is a question of skill and finesse, we ask, “What would Gary do?”  And, if the problem is unusual and needs a creative and outside-the-box-type solution, we ask, “What would Doug do?”

These three guys are our models, our shining examples, our quasi-mentors.  They are not our real mentors because they don’t mess with our little projects.  They are too busy with their own to notice us toiling in their shadows admiring them like groupies.

We try to keep a distance which, by the way, we prefer.  The other day Doug was going by and seeing us at work, he turned his boat and headed in to visit us.  “Oh, God!  Oh, God! Sal!!  Doug is coming!!!”

Sal didn’t hesitate.  She placed a piece of ply over a sloppy bit.  I quickly put a board in place to cover another.  We looked around and, together, freaked!  “Ohmygawd.  He’ll say it will fall down.  He’ll say we didn’t do something we should have.  Oh God!”  We trembled in anticipation of his scrutiny.

Doug looked everything over like he was the president of the company and we were temporary interns with more than a few developmental challenges.  “Well, he said, ya don’t need those braces, ya know….the ply will tie it all together.  they were unnecessary.” We hung our heads.  Ashamed at the profligate bracing.  Sheer gilding.  He was on the verge of offering up more observations but, over the years, has come to accept that we are hopeless and so just wrapped up everything with, “Well, it only has to last twenty or so years, right?  Not like this is Europe, eh?  Now they make things to last!  This should do ya, I think.  We can only hope, eh?”

Sal and I breathed a sigh of relief.  This was high praise indeed. For him. We beamed at his over-the-top compliment.

But Doug, my neighbour, Roger, Gary.  They can’t help it.  Neither can we.  The thing (healthy) people don’t really understand is that, once you have turned your hand to building, you can’t go anywhere without looking at the standard of construction.  We visit people and, instead of seeing a nice tapestry or piece of art, we look to see if the corners of the room are square.  We drag our feet to feel the floor surface.  We check out the construction.  And Sal is just as bad as I am.  “I saw you looking at that corner.”

“Yeah, I know.  I can’t help it.  It was off a bit, ya know?  I could see that the line was out.  They fudged it to get it to come together.”

“I know.  Saw it the second I walked in.  Roger would have fainted.  Doug would have snorted in derision and I think Gary would have gone to his truck and gotten his tools.  He would have torn it out and fixed it!”

Good idea!  Should we………..?”


4 thoughts on “Skill development run amok

  1. Nobody is perfect. As long as it does what you intended and you’re not hurting anyone. The Protestant work ethic is a wonderful thing, most of the moden technological world being a result of it. Up to a point. Personally I don’t feel a need to be judged by strangers, but I understand the neurotic fear of being disapproved of by the pack that many live with. The problem with being judgmental is where do we draw the line. Smell the roses, be creative, enjoy life and let the weeds grow.


    • Well, you are right. Of course. But old habits die hard. And I occasionally find myself competing to be as mellow and laid back as the next guy. So, I can’t win. May as well just be me and that means freakin’ when an expert carpenter comes by to see my work. But I am basically healthy and can accept flaws. I just find it easier to accept them in others. God knows, there are enough!
      Seriously…….? Even my bad work will outlast me. Sal and I work to the thirty year rule. Of which we are one third through already. All it has to do is stand up for twenty more years and we are compost anyway. So, we are good.


  2. Sadly – at 65 – twice is not enough. I measure. Sal measures. They aren’t often the same so we keep doing it until we can coroborate each other. Even if we both agree, it is sometimes wrong. Measure twice, cut once but buy 15% more wood than you need. THAT is the real rule to live by!


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